Film Reviews


Directed by Zara Hayes
(UK, USA, 2019)
Reviewed by Lois Siegel

A little history: cheerleading started in the USA. “Organized cheerleading started as an all-male activity….and in 1923, at the University of Minnesota, women were permitted to participate in cheerleading.” (Wikipedia)

“Poms” refers to pom-poms, which are objects cheerleaders shake when performing in front of a crowd. They are intended to add sparkle and attract attention. You can find these accessories in a dollar store or party or novelty shop.

Cheerleading has become very competitive and the movements have changed. By the 1980s, cheerleading included stunts, gymnastic routines, pyramids and tumbling. Safety became a concern, so training programs were introduced.

The film Poms is a comedy about retirement and what you do next. It’s not easy to adjust to a more idle life after being active and involved with lots of other people. Sometimes health problems force us to retire. Life can be bittersweet.

Martha (Diane Keaton) decides to leave New York upon retirement and move south to Sun Springs Retirement Community. She is bombarded upon arrival by an overly joyous welcoming committee that freaks her out. They give her a tour of the area: three golf courses, two bowling alleys, a swimming pool and a funeral home where you can have lunch – you’ll understand when you see the film. The women also indicate that there aren’t enough men/erections around.

There’s one rule: you have to join at least one club. At first, Martha hides in her new home – alone. A neighbour, Sheryl (Jacki Weaver), insists on being Martha’s friend and encourages her to do something rather than just mope. Sheryl earns a bit of money as an unconventional substitute teacher who teaches students about gonorrhea. We don’t know if the school has approved this.

Finally, Martha decides to start a new club based on a past unrequited interest: cheerleading. She announces auditions – think 70-year-old ladies with all kinds of ailments: dizziness, knee replacements, sore limbs, chlamydia – but these women still try their best.

The audition performances are sexy and funny. A baton twirler proudly states she was a competition winner in 1953. The truth is that she had sex with the judges, thus a sure winner.

Rehearsals begin; a young lady coach is found, Chloe (Alisha Boe), and we follow the seniors as they prep for an upcoming competition. But there’s a catch: the other entries are groups of strong, fit, able-bodied teenagers.

The women experience laughter and sadness, but they struggle on – after all, sometimes dreams come true.

The film was produced by the studio that produced Bad Moms. Director Zara Hayes is a young British filmmaker who previously made the documentary The Battle of the Sexes, a film about tennis and Billie Jean King’s 1973 victory match against Bobby Riggs, who was 55 years old at the time and King was 29.

Poms is witty and delightful and it introduces us to some very engaging golden-agers who don’t give up and who learn to enjoy life for what it is and can be.

Running time: 91 minutes,
DVD release August 2019

Un Amour impossible

Directed by Catherine Corsini
(France/Belgium, 2018)
Reviewed by Paul Green

Watching the trailer for this film, one has the impression that Amour is about a pair of star-crossed lovers, or an ill-fated love affair. The title, however, has it right; this is an impossible affair because it is . . . well, unthinkable.

Working from the autobiographical novel by Christine Amgot, director Corsini, whose previous outing was the lesbian feature La Belle saison (2016), has fashioned a compelling period piece that starts in the late fifties through ­early sixties and stretches into the early nineties.

Rachel Steiner is working in 1958 as a lowly clerk in Châteauroux in central France. Shy and lacking in self-esteem, Rachel (Virginie Efira) is nonetheless stunning and as such catches the eye of Philippe – translator, polyglot and scion of an upper-class family. When he invites her to a dance it doesn’t take us long to realize that Philippe is slumming.

With his charm, flair for languages and impossible good looks – he reminds one of the young Alain Delon – Philippe sweeps Rachel off her feet and into his bed. Their affair is a passionate one; Philippe is gentle, tender and attentive in his love-making. He will not always be so.

The first inkling that something’s up comes as Rachel and Philippe walk through an idyllic landscape and he turns to her and asks, so you want to get married? No, she says, and you? Oh no, not me, he replies, I wish to remain free so I can do as I please.

Corsini, who toils in the fertile fields of gender politics, has much to work with in Amgot’s novel.  Amour examines (unequal) gender relations in the context of a rigid class structure that persists in France today. It is a cautionary tale of the first order.

Rachel hears no alarm bells when Philippe says he learned all he needed to know in life from reading Nietzche and doesn’t bat an eye when he hands her a copy of Also Sprach Zarathustra.

Notwithstanding this, she becomes pregnant with daughter Chantal and learns that the pregnancy “changes nothing” and that Philippe will not marry her.

The arrival of Chantal is notable because it is she (voiced by actress Jehnny Beth) who has narrated the film since the beginning, when she intoned, “I was born 3 February 1959. My birth certificate reads ‘Father Unknown.’” Amour is a remarkable mother–daughter story set against the backdrop of a mysterious, absent father.

Philippe had no intention of marrying Rachel, who is Jewish on her mother’s side and from a modest background. Rachel accepts this, but insists that Philippe acknowledge his daughter. Thereafter follows a chilling sequence in which Rachel is granted an audience with Philippe’s father, an executive with Michelin. He coldly refuses to give her his son’s address, but agrees to forward the letter she has brought with her.

Virginie Efira (Le Grand bain) is astounding as Rachel, who goes from being radiant and in love to exhausted and depressed (though still attractive) as she strives to give Chantal a decent upbringing. When Philippe casually informs her that he is marrying a German woman from a wealthy family, she loses it and throws him out.

When he turns up seven years later and is finally ready to sign his daughter’s birth certificate, we are inclined to wonder why. For her part, Chantal, now 15 or so and intelligent beyond her years, is thrilled to see her father again and begins spending weekends with him. I learn so much from him, she tells her weary mother, who begins to feel inadequate.

The dénouement has a didactic feel to it, with Chantal growing up and having a child of her own. Chantal has spent her life picking up on the stresses and strains on Rachel and by the time she is in her mid-30s, she has pieced together what went wrong in her parents’ relationship and the relationship she had with her father. The belated reconciliation that follows between mother and daughter affords some welcome relief for the viewer.

Actor Niels Schneider is particularly unsettling as Philippe whose seduction of Rachel is a prelude to a campaign of disavowal of her and the underclass she belonged to. Estelle Lescure excels as the teenage Chantal. Beautifully photographed and written, Amour bears witness to a mother’s struggle for emancipation in a France where those class structures are perhaps still in place. It merits a second viewing.

In French with English subtitles
Running time: 135 minutes
Rating to be announced.
Watch for upcoming DVD release.

Share this